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Day 24 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & First Page Workshop with Mentors Juliana Brandt, Allison Ziegler & Nina Laurin

Friday, 9 June 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentors Juliana Brandt & Allison Ziegler

Juliana BrandtWebsite | Twitter

Juliana is a Middle Grade and Young Adult writer and has mentored in PitchWars for the past two years. She’s a dog lover, outdoor enthusiast, kindergarten teacher, and loves novel-shaped things and is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency.





Allison Ziegler Website | Twitter

Allison Ziegler is an occasional occupant of the real world, frequent resident of writer town, and constant consumer of diet coke. She’s represented by Emmanuelle Morgen at Stonesong Literary Agency, and a  Mentors.




Juliana and Allison’s Query Critique…

Dear **,
Today I’m presenting SWEET PEA a 25,000-word animal fantasy story. [Do you have comparison books? Those are important to include. They show agents that you’ve done your research 🙂 ] It’s about two dwarf-lop rabbits, Sweet Pea and Dasher, and a community of animals they befriend on a farm in the Australian countryside. Will Pirate, the farmer’s dog and an ever-present threat, ever come to accept their existence? [Essentially, you’re “telling” in these two sentences. In queries, your words are particularly precious, so cut these and use those words to “show” what happens in the story in the next two paragraphs! Also, try to avoid rhetorical questions as much as possible–usually, rhetorical questions weaken writing; they also risk the agent not wanting to find the answer to the question. It’s best not to ask them to search out the answer, but rather to simply tell them what happens.]

When the truck transporting Sweet Pea and Dasher from the breeding shed to a pet shop crashes, can they survive when lost in the Australian bush? The ever-confident Dasher believes they can and convinces Sweet Pea to become adventurous. [Can you show us more of what happens in the story? I would suggest using a two paragraph format to describe what happens in your book. Paragraph 1 would be dedicated to introducing your main characters and their lives before the story begins. The last sentence of this paragraph will show us your inciting incident (ie: “When the truck crashes, Sweet Pea and Dasher become lost in the Australian bush.”) Paragraph 2 shows us the main conflict of your story and how your main characters respond to this. The last sentence here shows us your stakes (ie: what risks are there if your MCs can’t overcome their main obstacles?). Remember, you have 250-300 words to use for your query–use all of them, with the bulk being dedicated to showing us conflict and your MCs response to said conflict 🙂 ]

I live in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. This is my debut chapter book. [Place these next three paragraphs all in the same paragraph, so it’s easier to read.]

I am a member of the Carindale Writers’ Group, Write Links Writers Group, and two online picture book critique groups, namely SCBWI and 12×12. I work in a voluntary capacity as Minutes Secretary for Book Links (Qld) Inc., Centre for Children’s Literature.

I’ve attended writing workshops and conferences. I have a five short stories published in anthologies.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my story. [Great job! A few structural tweaks will make this query shine. You have a lovely, heart-warming story that reminds me of WATERSHIP DOWN–one of my favorites!]

Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentors Nina Laurin

Nina Laurin Website | Twitter

Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada.

To contact Nina, email thrillerina at gmail dot com.

Nina is represented by Rachel Ekstrom of Irene Goodman Literary Agency.


Nina’s First Page Critique…

Age Category: Adult

Genre: Speculative

Before I open my eyes, I know I’m not in my bedroom anymore.

The air reeks of mildew, and it’s cold. Much colder than I normally keep my apartment. Goose bumps cover my skin, and my usual five layers of blankets are gone. There’s a steady ping of dripping water echoing across the room, one by one. Drip by drip. Something’s very wrong. I don’t have a sink in my bedroom.

I moan and cover my sleepy eyes from the assaulting light, much too bright for what my windows will let in. What day is it? Where am? I shift to the left, trying to get my legs over the edge of the bed, and the springs under me creak in protest. That’s wrong, too. My bed only creaks when I roll over. [Love these details.]

My wrists itch, but when I scratch I don’t get skin. It’s grainy and hard material. I blink once at the black leather cuffed over them, chains hanging down. I understand some people have their preferences. But I’m not one to sleep with chains. [I’d turn the last two into one sentence.]

I pull myself up to sitting, and my head spins in response. Concrete walls surround me, except for the cell gate on the other side of the room. This isn’t my room. This isn’t my home.

It’s a prison cell.

It’s much quieter than I imagined. The leaky faucet is the only noise in the bright hallway that makes my head pound. [This sentence, with the structure as it is, doesn’t make much sense. Is it the leaky faucet or the brightness of the hallway that makes their head pound? Clarify.] I sway back and forth, stomping a [whose foot? “my foot”?] foot on the ground to make it stop. It’s eerie. And I need to figure out where I am.

“Hello?” My voice squeaks out dry and raspy. The effort makes me nauseous. I clear my throat and try again. It comes out louder this time, but still hoarse. [Is “Hello?” really the first thing someone would say in this situation?]

In the cell across the hall there’s movement, the creaking of a bed and the clink of chains. I’m not alone. That’s a good thing, I think. [Why? Doesn’t sound like a good thing to me…]

A bald man limps to the iron cell gate, blood shot eyes peeking out against flaky skin. He stares without blinking. [Nice. Creepy!]

“Hi, can you tell me where we are?” I shift on the bed in slow, concentrated movements. Any faster and I’ll lose my balance. I need water. Something to make my head stop spinning. I swear there are colors swirling around me, the yellows and reds floating together. I must have hit my head very hard. [It feels like the character should be blathering semi-coherently, not forming polite complete sentences. The writing style (which I love, by the way) is also choppy and suggests a chaotic mindset of the character, which doesn’t jive with the dialogue.]

The man blinks twice, tilting his head. I stand, the cold floor helping my [me] find my balance before I swallow my fear and walk closer to the gate. He’s only human. He won’t bite. But he’s silent. The man’s cheeks are sunken, and his bony legs are shaking. Rather, all of him is.

“Sir, are you okay?” I ask, shaking my head to bring him into focus. He bares his teeth and growls before convulsing to the floor.

He’s seizing, and there’s no one here.



You’ve crafted an intriguing and captivating first page. It raises questions and makes me want to keep reading. The issues I spotted are easily corrected, and I really enjoyed the creepiness of the scene you set. Good job!

All best,

Nina Laurin

Thank you Juliana, Allison, and Nina, for your critiques!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.

One Comment
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